It's never too early to start saving up money for your college education. Even if you are only in your first or second year of high school, there are plenty of opportunities to start bringing in money that will pay for your tuition, books, fees, and living expenses a couple of years down the line.
You might be surprised to learn that there are actually hundreds of scholarships available to underclassmen. If you're just starting your hunt, use this list of the 36 best scholarships for high school freshmen and sophomores to get started.
This list includes a variety of scholarships for freshmen and sophomores. I've broken them down into the following categories:
- Essay Scholarships
- Special Interest Scholarships
- Creative Scholarships
- Hobby- and Activity-Based Scholarships
- Location-based Scholarships
- Easy Scholarships
These scholarships are not limited to one college or university, so students who win these awards will be able to use them for a variety of schools.
How to Use This List of Scholarships for Sophomores and Freshmen
Before we go over the scholarships you can apply for, let's quickly review the best ways you can use this list of scholarships for sophomores and freshmen.
Rule 1: Play to Your Strengths
Start out by looking at the different categories below. Are you creative? Then consider applying to some of the scholarships that require artwork or a movie for their applications. If you're a strong writer, on the other hand, consider applying to scholarships that require essays.
Rule 2: Apply to Many Scholarships
The beauty of starting your scholarship hunt early is that you have a lot of time! So use it wisely to apply to as many scholarships as possible.
We recommend applying to anywhere between five and 30 scholarships. Most scholarships on this list and beyond are competitive, meaning many students will be applying for them. You'll increase your chances of winning money if you don't put all of your eggs in one basket!
Rule 3: Pay Attention to Details
Make sure you read all the rules carefully before you apply for a scholarship, and be certain that your essays and other application materials address what is being asked. It's a waste of time to apply to scholarships if you're going to end up disqualified simply because you failed to follow the instructions.
Similarly, make sure to stay on top of important deadlines. You don't want to miss out on a great scholarship because you accidentally missed a due date!
Rule 4: Do Your Own Research
Keep in mind that this list is just a starting point. There are many more scholarships available to younger students, and there very well might be some that are more suited to your talents and interests. Don't be afraid to do some Google searches to see whether there are any scholarships out there that correspond to one of your unique traits.
Remember, the more obscure a scholarship is, the better your chance of winning it will be!
To start, let's take a look at scholarships that require students to write and submit essays as part of their applications.
The Oklahoma City National Museum hosts an essay contest for students in grades 5-12. Topics revolve around ideas related to the Oklahoma bombings in 1995. Students in grades 9 and 10 can submit 500-word essays.
- 1st place: $200
- 2nd place: $150
- 3rd place: $100
High school freshmen and sophomores can write an essay on one of several topics related to the book Anthem by Ayn Rand. The deadline to apply is April 29, 2021.
- 1st place: $2,000 (one winner)
- 2nd place: $250 (three winners)
- 3rd place: $100 (five winners)
To enter this contest, high school students must write a 1,000-word essay answering the question, "What does the second amendment mean to you?" The deadline is December 31, 2020.
- 1st place: $1,000
- 2nd place: $600
- 3rd place: $200
- 4th place: $100
Students in grades 7-12 can enter this essay contest by submitting an essay of no more than 350 words on "What Freedom of Speech Means to Me." The deadline is December 1, 2020.
- Grand national prize: $5,000
- 1st place: $2,500
- 2nd place: $1,500
- 3rd place: $1,000
Students 13 or older can apply for a chance to win one grand prize of $10,000. Your application must include a 250-word response to the prompt: "Imagine a historical figure is brought back to life. Who is it? What's their favorite mobile app?" The deadline is December 31, 2020.
High school students can submit a 250-word essay on a topic of their choice for the chance to be entered into a competition to win a $1,000 prize. There are two contests per year. The fall contest deadline is December 31, 2020, and the spring contest deadline is July 31, 2021.
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Students in grades 9-12 can submit a 700- to 1,000-word essay about "an act of political courage by a US elected official who served during or after 1917, the year John F. Kennedy was born." Essays must have at least five sources. The deadline for this year's contest is January 17, 2021.
- 1st place: $10,000
- 2nd place: $3,000
- Finalists: $1,000 (five winners)
- Semifinalists: $100 (eight winners)
US students enrolled in grades 8-12 can apply to this scholarship to win one of 15 awards ranging from $500 to $7,500. You must complete the online application and submit an essay of no more than 800 words on the topic cited on the website. The deadline for 2021 hasn't been announced, but will likely be in mid-April.
- 1st place: $7,500
- Runners-up: $1,500 (six winners)
- Honorable Mention: $500 (eight winners)
US students under the age of 19 can submit an essay on the topic "When All the World’s Problems are Solved, is Optimism Still Necessary?" Club winners advance to the District contest to compete for a $2,500 scholarship. Students need to contact their local clubs to enter. Most club level contests are held in early February. Clubs must submit their winners to the district chair by February 28th, 2021, and Districts must submit a winner's information by April 15th, 2021.
Any currently enrolled US high school student can apply to receive a prize from $1,000 to $5,000. Applicants must submit a completed application, a copy of their most recent (unofficial) high school transcript, and a 500-word essay. The deadline for this year's contest is May 1, 2021.
Special Interest Scholarships
These next scholarships require a special action on the part of the applicant, from volunteering to playing an online game.
High school students who volunteer for a non-profit that meets Humanity Rising’s criteria may apply for this scholarship by sharing their service story. You must make an account in order to access the scholarship details and apply for the challenge. Awards range from $500 to more than $2,000, and all deadlines are rolling.
This scholarship is available to all students who are involved in playing competitive eSports, like League of Legends or Teamfight Tactics. One $2,500 scholarship is awarded each year to students who demonstrate exceptional sportsmanship. The deadline to apply is November 2, 2020.
Are you the creative type? This next set of scholarships for freshmen and sophomores is all about artistic ability and creativity. For these contests, you'll need to submit a piece of art, whether that's a story, painting, video, photograph, etc.
Any student between the ages of 14 and 22 can submit either a piece of writing (100-600 words), a video, a work of art, or a piece of music they've composed on the topic of how to address reckless driving. Voting on entries begins November 13, 2020.
- Grand prize: $1,500 (four winners, one per category)
- Top Online Vote Getter prize: $500 (four winners, one per category)
- Spanish Category Award: $1,500 (one winner)
All US high school students at least 13 years of age can enter this contest by creating a unique 30- to 60-second video that highlights safer teen driving. The video must end with the TeenDrive365 Video Challenge Call to Action slide, which you can download from the TeenDrive365 website. The submission deadline will likely be in February 2021.
- 1st place: $15,000
- 2nd place: $10,000
- 3rd place: $7,500
- People's Choice: $5,000
- 4th-10th place: $2,500
- Regional prizes: $1,000 (four winners)
Students from kindergarten to 12th grade can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit a Google Doodle related to this year's theme. All submissions are divided and judged by age group. The deadline will likely be in March 2021.
- National Winner: $30,000 (plus a $50,000 technology award for the winner's school)
- National Finalists: $5,000 (four winners, one per age group)
Students in grades 7-12 with a keen interest in writing or art may apply to win a Best-in-Grade Award. Students in 12th grade only can also apply to win a Portfolio Award. Deadlines vary by region.
- Portfolio Award–Gold Medal: $10,000 (16 winners)
- Portfolio Award–Silver Medal: $1,000 (30 winners)
All current high school students can apply for this scholarship. Applications must include a 400-word essay about an innovative pet product idea. The deadline will likely be in late August, 2021.
- Grand prize: $1,250
- First runner-up: $500
- Second runner-up: $250
US students who are at least 14 years old may apply for this scholarship of $10,000. You must design a greeting card using a photo, piece of artwork, or computer graphic for the front image. Submissions must be submitted as JPEGs (.jpg). The deadline is March 9, 2021.
US high school students interested in art can apply to win up to $31,000 in national awards. Applicants must submit an original piece of art with a patriotic theme. The first-place winner from each state will then advance to compete for the . The winner's art will also be featured on the cover of the VFW Auxiliary magazine and the Auxiliary website. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2021.
Hobby- and Activity-Based Scholarships
If you've got a long-term hobby or activity you like to do, these next scholarships are right up your alley.
Any high school student who is an active member of Women in Aviation International (WAI) may apply for this $3,000 scholarship. You must submit a completed WAI form, two recommendation letters, a 500-word essay, a resume, copies of all aviation licenses and medical records, and the last three pages of your pilot logbook, if applicable. The deadline for submission is November 10, 2020.
This scholarship has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. The award will become available again in 2022!
- 1st place: $2,500
- Runner-up: $500
Students in grades 4-12 can apply for this essay contest to win one of 10 $1,000 prizes. Essays must be 250 words or less and answer the contest's theme: "How has playing an instrument changed for you during the pandemic?" The deadline is December 31, 2020.
US high school students can apply to this for a chance to win a $1,000 prize. Applications must be submitted along with a 140-character message that completes the following statement: "Instead of spending time with technology, I'd rather ... " The top 10 applicants will be contacted and invited to write a 500- to 1,000-word essay on technology addiction. The winner will be selected from this 10. Applications for this year's contest are due January 30, 2021.
Any full-time student aged 8-18 can apply to win one of 20 $10,000 scholarships. Applicants must show outstanding classical music achievement and demonstrate financial need. You must submit at least two audio samples of your music along with tax forms, transcripts, and other supporting documents. There are three application cycles each year, and this year's deadlines are December 4, 2020; January 4, 2021; and March 15, 2021.
US students aged 18 or younger who have completed a "significant piece of work" in one of the categories listed here can apply to win a large scholarship. The deadline for this scholarship is February 10, 2021.
- 1st place: $50,000
- 2nd place: $25,000
- 3rd place: $10,000
Both US and international students (in the Western Hemisphere) younger than 28 can apply to win a scholarship of up to $5,000. Each applicant must submit an audio recording of an original music composition along with legible manuscripts. The deadline for this scholarship is February 5, 2021.
US students aged 15 or older who are active members of a Boy Scout Troop, Varsity Scout Team, or Venturing Crew can be nominated to win a $10,000 scholarship. Applicants must be active in their religious institutions and have received the corresponding Boy Scout religious emblem and Eagle Scout Award; they must have also shown practical citizenship in their churches, schools, Scouting groups, and communities. Nomination and application forms must be received by the applicant's corresponding department (state) headquarters by early March 2021.
- 1st place: $10,000
- Runners-up: $2,500 (three winners)
US high school students under the age of 20 can apply to receive a maximum scholarship of $25,000. Students must first compete in their local oratorical contests and deliver a prepared speech on a particular topic. Winners will then advance to the national competition.
- 1st place: $25,000
- 2nd place: $22,500
- 3rd place: $20,000
State winners who participate in the national contest's first round will receive $2,000, and those who advance past the first round will receive an additional $2,000.
Some scholarships are only for students who live in particular areas. Check out the following list of scholarships to see whether there are any contests in your region.
Applicants must be in grades 9-12, have a GPA of at least 2.0, and live in one of these California counties: Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, or San Francisco. Students who live in Arizona's Pima County are also eligible. If you live outside these counties, you can still enter the contest if you're a member of the Meriwest Credit Union. The scholarship competition awards 12 prizes annually that range from $100 to $1000. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2021.
Any students in grades 6-9 who attend a public school in Hillsborough County, Florida, have a 2.5 GPA or higher, and qualify for free or reduced lunches may apply. The application period will open in the spring of 2021.
Oklahoma students currently enrolled in grades 8-10 and whose families make $55,000 or less annually can apply for the chance to receive full tuition for an Oklahoma public two-year college or four-year university, or partial tuition for an accredited Oklahoma private college. The application must include the first two pages of the applicant's most recent federal tax return. The deadline for this scholarship is fall 2021.
This final section of scholarships for sophomores and freshmen includes those that are extremely easy to apply for—all you have to do is register for a website or submit an online application and you're good to go!
Any student can apply by simply registering on the website. A winner is chosen each month to receive $2,000. The deadline to apply is the last day of each month.
Any high school student who registers and completes a profile at Cappex.com will be entered into a monthly drawing to receive $1,000. The deadline to apply is the end of each month.
Any US student 13 or older can apply for the chance to win a $1,500 scholarship. Applicants must respond to the following statement in no more than 250 words: "Create a Top Ten List of the top ten reasons you should get this scholarship." The deadline is December 31, 2020.
Students aged 14 or older can apply for this scholarship by simply registering for the CollegeSTEPS program. Awards are $5,000 each.
Too old for these scholarships? Check out these scholarships that you can apply to in your senior year of high school!
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Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.